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All seven Roald Dahl movies ranked worst to best

From Johnny Depp creep-fests to tripped-out woodland wonderlands, we list the films based on the author’s work in order of greatness

Written by
Tom Huddleston
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This month, Steven Spielberg releases ‘The BFG’ – the newest addition to a beloved brace of films adapted from the work of the great children’s author Roald Dahl. Amazingly, it’s only the eighth Dahl-based movie to hit the big screen (unless you count the author’s own adaptations of Ian Fleming novels ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’). Here, we rank every Roald Dahl film from CGI-slathered worst to drily hilarious best.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
  • Film
  • Family and kids
Johnny Depp is at his most overbearingly whimsical as Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s creepy computer-generated phantasmagoria. It may stick a lot closer to the book than the Gene Wilder musical version, but there’s something so horribly garish about Burton’s film that you can’t help feeling a little queasy afterwards.
Danny the Champion of the World (1989)
  • Film
  • Family and kids
This homegrown effort was made for TV but shown briefly in cinemas. It takes one of Dahl’s most earnest and un-wacky books – about a boy in the 1950s whose father makes a living poaching pheasants – and turns it into a cosy slice of nostalgic family drama. Jeremy Irons is at his most warmly paternal as the struggling Dad, and the film is peppered with best-of-British cameos from the likes of Michael Hordern, Robbie Coltrane and, um, Jimmy Nail.
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James and the Giant Peach (1996)
  • Film
  • Animation
Fresh from the smash success of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, idiosyncratic animator Henry Selick turned to one of Dahl’s most beloved books – the story of a boy and six insects crossing the Atlantic in a magically oversized fruit. Switching from live action to animation, the film manages – like the book – to be both queasy-weird and comfy-sweet at the same time. No mean feat.
Matilda (1996)
  • Film
  • Family and kids
Long before it was a smash-hit musical in the West End, Dahl’s story of an orphaned girl with a magnificent mind and the world’s worst parents was snapped up by that miniature colossus of the silver screen, Danny DeVito. The result is a lurid but very enjoyable black comedy packed with grotesque performances (Pam Ferris is terrifying as Miss Trunchbull) and visual quirks. You can bet JK Rowling saw it before she came up with the Dursleys.
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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • Film
  • Family and kids
Ditching Dahl’s signature spikiness in favour of a whole boatload of Hollywood slush, this is the least authentically Dahl-ish film on our list. But it’s still a great movie, a goofy psychedelic head-trip crammed with old-fashioned toe-tappers. Look up ‘twinkly’ in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Gene Wilder grinning in a top hat, surrounded by short men painted orange.
The Witches (1990)
  • Film
  • Fantasy
Nicolas Roeg is the reigning enfant terrible of British film, a man whose films – from ‘Performance’ to ‘Don’t Look Now’ to ‘Eureka’ – leave no psycho-sexual stone unturned. So who better to adapt Dahl’s creepiest book, about an orphan boy who discovers that his holiday has been crashed by a hotel full of witches? Having a ball with the story’s inherent misogyny and with masterstroke casting – particularly Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch – Roeg delivered one of the nastiest, most savagely delicious kids movies ever.
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Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
  • Film
  • Animation
It was a fiendishly close race between the top two. But Wes Anderson’s giddy, brainy, barmy stop-motion comedy just clinched it. Resettling Dahl’s oh-so-English woodland tale in some kind of weird Anglo-American hinterland where badgers and opossums live side by side, where rats carry flick-knives and foxes talk like George Clooney and spend their school days playing spaced-out baseball, Anderson’s film is like a dream of Dahl after a dinner of peyote and stilton sandwiches.

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